Sunday, February 28, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: Five Minutes To Spare

 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy! 

Well, what can I say? This one- Trans Iowa v11, it was the second shortest Trans Iowa ever. Only T.I.v2 was shorter in terms of miles covered by the riders. So, you'd think that there were not a whole lot of story lines coming out of this event. But of course, that is wrong thinking, because this particular Trans Iowa was so out of the ordinary that it stands out as being one of the 'best' Trans Iowa events for several reasons. 

Oh, yeah.....the event sucked, if all you look at are the results viewed through the lens of a traditional look at gravel events and Trans Iowa in particular. However; due to the very reasons that the event was 'ruined' we ended up with opportunities to see extraordinary acts, to have fellowship unseen, and some stories which would never have happened otherwise. 

Of course, it was an event dominated by an extreme Spring weather system which was unpredictable. The weather forecast was certainly not favorable, but it wasn't horrible either. The weathermen were calling for a quarter inch of rain throughout the day, grey, overcast skies, and winds out of the Southeast at a fairly good speed, but nothing we hadn't seen riders go through before. There were no real concerns about thunderstorms or lightning, and so I wasn't expecting a truncated event by any means. 

That didn't mean that I wasn't concerned. I was. Very. I felt that this would be a Trans Iowa with very few finishers. One that saw a lot of attrition throughout the event. I knew that we had several very difficult Level B Maintenance roads which would severely test the ability of the riders to make the checkpoint cut-offs. There was one going to Checkpoint #1, a doozy of a Level B, with no real rideable options when it got wet. Then there were two out of the gate from Checkpoint #1 which would also be difficult to walk through and would be two miles of time consuming drudgery in the muck. Add clean-up time and you are already in the hurt locker for time. But that wasn't all....

Tracks left in the Level B Road on the way to CP#1 during Trans Iowa v11. Image by Kevin Fox.

I knew that things cleared up and actually got fairly easy about halfway to Checkpoint #2, but not long before the checkpoint there would be three bad Level B Roads and if you did not have a lot of 'time in the bank' at that point, you were going to be short. Anyone on the rivet halfway to Checkpoint #2 was not going to make the cut-off. No way. 

So, before the event even got started, I knew that perhaps only a select few individuals would even make Checkpoint #2, let alone finish, and yes- there were more bad Level B's after Checkpoint #2. Would anyone be able to finish? Had we not seen the unforeseen weather, and it actually turned out as forecast, maybe one, two, maybe three people finish? It was going to be a lower number, a single digit total at best. Much like Trans Iowa v2, if you want to know. No one made the only cut-off time checkpoint that year, but that was early on into the gravel scene. Riders had more knowledge now, better equipped physically and mentally. There was a chance. 

Jason Boucher's image from Checkpoint #1 in Guernsey Iowa as Greg Gleason leaves as the last rider left in T.I.v11.

 So, when the weather went to Hell in a hand basket, well, that made things even worse. There was an intense situation developing since the weather now was putting everyone at risk. At risk of not only missing the Checkpoint #1 cut-off, but at risk of their very lives being lost. We waited at the checkpoint with the clock ticking down to the final minutes before the event would possibly end. It was surreal.

One guy made the first checkpoint with five minutes to spare. 

Five freaking minutes. 

Next: A Good Plan Goes Wrong

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Discussion Concerning Types Of Geometry For 'Gravel' Bikes

The Raleigh Tamland series, circa 2014, set a standard for gravel geo.
 While writing up my ten year review of my Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" frame and fork it occurred to me that a discussion of where we've been to where we are now in terms of geometry for 'gravel' bikes might be interesting. But first, I want to take a moment to say something I feel is very important here.

The term which ended up becoming the name of bikes that were not limited to riding on smooth pavement but were designed for any road ended up becoming something rather unfortunate. While I've mentioned this ad nauseam  here on my blog, I will risk saying it again- "Gravel Bikes" is absolutely wrong for this genre' of bicycle. It should never have been the term adopted for a bike that is possibly the most versatile style of bike made in the last half century. But there ya go. I cannot change that unfortunate term anymore than you can now. So, please understand that I do not endorse the term 'gravel bike', but for reasons of communicating simply and clearly, that is the term I will use. Okay, with that out of the way.......

As I stated in my BMC review linked above, in the late 00's and early years of the last decade, there were no 'gravel bikes' at all. What we were using were adopted bikes from other cycling genres. Bicycles meant for mountain biking, cyclo cross, randonnuering, and other types of bicycles were all used on gravel roads and still can be. This is very important to understand.  Any bicycle you can ride most likely could be ridden on a gravel road, but it may not work all that well, or be satisfying in the end. Nuff said there.....

The point I wanted to make is that early gravel events after 2005 were populated with a cornucopia of bicycle types, but mostly they shook out to be hard tail 29"ers and cyclo cross bikes. Elements of both were necessary to end up with the 'gravel bikes' we all enjoy today. The big tires and more relaxed geometry of 29"ers were matched up with the sensibilities of cyclo cross bikes, namely the drop bars and lighter weight frames, to come up with where we are today. Add a dash of early 20th Century road bike design and you are pretty much there. A bike that can go from pavement to single track with aplomb. Any road available becomes a road you could undertake a cycling adventure on.

Now to undertake the rest of the discussion I have a couple of visual aids to discuss. 

A diagram showing pertinent dimensions for a bicycle's geometry. (Image courtesy of Nicolai Bicycles)

The above diagram shows measurement points on a bicycle's frame which most bicycle nerds know as 'geometry'. Not the subject in school, but yeah- related. The angles and distances all matter. It's best not to focus on one thing, but to take things in a systemic way, because one change makes a difference everywhere else on a bicycle. 

That said, there are four main areas of concern when I look at a bicycle design. I take them as a whole, but each has a very dramatic effect upon handling, in my opinion. So, I list them off as follows and I will give the letter designation which you can cross reference to the diagram above for a visual aid. 

  • Head Tube Angle (E), Fork Offset (L), and Fork Axle To Crown (K)
  • Seat Tube Angle (F)
  • Bottom Bracket Drop (G)
  • Chain Stay Length - Actual (Hr) and Virtual (Hv)

Okay, breaking it down, the first bullet point can be called as a group, "Front End Geometry". This determines handling in corners, but for my money, this determines, not 100% but to a great degree, how my bike will handle rough, loose gravel and dirt roads. Next I listed the Seat Tube angle which is important as it relates to rider positioning in relationship to the crank set, but in conjunction with Bottom Bracket Drop and Chain Stay Length, it helps determine how stable or unstable a bike might feel like in loose gravel and dirt. Speaking of those things, the final two bullet points are very important. Bottom Bracket Drop also makes a bike feel more secure and stable, or it can be adjusted to make a bike feel more nimble and easier to loft over obstacles. Chain Stay Length helps determine down hill stability, climbing prowess, or it could help determine a bicycle's ability to loft the front wheel or clear luggage carriers like panniers, etc. 

So, as you can see, all are interrelated and changing one thing can affect another. Change the Axle to Crown length on a fork and that affects Bottom Bracket Drop, Seat Tube Angle, and Head Tube Angle. (Which is why you want to be very careful when choosing a fork for a bicycle.) That's just one example. But for this post, I am not going to get way into the weeds on geometry, but I am going to cut to the chase and talk about what does and does not work for me. 

A geometry chart for a Kinesis Tripster AT (Image courtesy of Kinesis)

Now keep in mind that a bicycle frame geometry changes with size, most often anyway, as you can see by checking the geometry chart above. So, when I say "what works for me" I am talking about a size 57cm-58cm frame, or in modern-day parlance, a "Size Large". If you are a smaller statured person, you should note that a different geometry will likely be something you'd prefer than what I do. That said, certain things can be said to be 'universal' in this discussion. 

What I look for immediately to know if I am interested in a design is Head Angle and Bottom Bracket drop. These are the two most frequently missed points on 'gravel bike' design, in my opinion. Get those 'wrong' and I will not look any deeper into your bike's design-  for me anyway. I like a Bottom Bracket Drop of at least 70mm and down as low as 75 (using tires from 40mm- 45mm) If your design incorporates a big tire, lets say a 50mm tire, then I can see going as low as 80mm, although then that pretty much excludes using certain sizes of tires and wheels. (I'll maybe talk about that in another post) 

Head Angle is the other thing. I maybe could go with a 72°, but only if everything else is compelling to me. I'd much rather see a 71.5°- 71° head angle and maybe even a 70° - 70.5° angle would be appealing if other front end measurements align with that to give me decent handling. So, yeah- I'm not saying I don't look at everything, but if you list a 68mm bottom bracket drop? Yeah, I'm turning the page. Got a 72.5° head angle? Same thing there. At least for me. Your mileage may vary. And on THAT point......

Here's the thing: I got what I wanted in most everything I could demand when Raleigh called me up and asked me "What would you do if you designed your own gravel bike?" My answer became pretty much what the Raleigh Tamland was in 2014. 71.5° head angle, 72.5mm bottom bracket drop, and everything else to go with that. One of the engineers on that Tamland project went on to form Noble Bikes, and the GX5, which I use as a test mule for, is basically a carbon Tamland. So, your 'new fangled design' has a pretty high bar to clear when it comes to what I like. And furthermore; a LOT of other people agreed with me. Tamlands were a huge hit when they came out, and that geometry, or geometry very close to that, is where a LOT of other companies landed when they came out with gravel bikes. So, it wasn't just what I ended up liking. Apparently it works for a lot of people. 

To my way of thinking, there are then three distinct types of geometry for bikes in this genre'. One being the "Cyclo Cross Derivative". These bikes typically have a higher bottom bracket- or 'less drop', than most. 70mm or less is typical. They also may have a steeper head angle, but not always. Shorter chain stays are also a hallmark of this sort of bike. 420mm is roundabout where you'll see these types of 'gravel bikes' landing at. Tire clearances will be limited many times to 45mm or less in width.

Then you have what I am calling "First Generation Geometry" which is what my Tamland has. Tire clearances up to 50mm, 430-435mm chain stays, 72°-73° seat tube angles along with what I mentioned above. 

Then you have what I am calling "MTB Influenced Geometry". This usually is typified by a slacker than 71.5° head angle, a deeper bottom bracket drop, a longer front/center, and short-ish chainstays. There are not many bikes like this, but probably the best example is the Evil Bikes "Chamois Hagar".

Again- this is far to brief a discussion to cover everything. There are people about to slam my comments with "Hey! What about "X" and "Y", or THIS BIKE, which has....." You get my drift. I get it. Exceptions. They exist all over. This post is a big generalization and overview. Not a specific "this is the way it is" discussion of 'gravel bike' geometry. It is also my opinion. Not the "Rule Of The Land", so take it for what it is. Just a friendly discussion about my views on geometry. (For a deeper dive into my thoughts about 'gravel' bikes design here is a post from 2013  This being pre-Tamland, but post my talking with Raleigh) Maybe you've got a favorite? Let me know. Got questions? Of course, hit me up in the comments. Want to know more about what I think about "X" or "Y"? Again, make a suggestion. I'll follow up with another post if warranted. 

And as always- Thank You for reading.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday News And Views

The TIME Ciclo pedal was to be TIME's entry into the gravel segment.
SRAM Purchases TIME Pedal Business:

Toward the end of 2019 I was contacted by a marketing agency representing TIME and was asked if I wanted to try out a new pedal that they were going to market to gravel riders. It was an embargoed deal and I couldn't talk about it for awhile, but eventually in October of 2019 they announced it. In November I posted my first edition of a three part review on these pedals. The pedals were preproduction units. They were the same as production only these were built in house by TIME, not in their vendor's factory, as the production units were to be built. 

This resulted in my having gotten time in on the pedals before they became available in early 2020. However; TIME was in financial trouble at that point and production was spotty, at best. Some people got pedals, but many did not. To further complicate matters, a small cosmetic flaw was discovered which TIME claimed they wanted to rectify, which was the reason I was given that the pedals ceased to be available for a while. I was told to cease and desist from posting about the pedals. I'm guessing now that was an 'official company directive' to cover them until their financial/ownership issues had been rectified. Of course, then COVID-19 hit , big demand hit, and all that nonsense. So, it's taken until now to finally get things sorted. TIME's frame/fork business was purchased by another company, but curiously, the pedal business was still on the market. Well, last Monday a bombshell announcement revealed that SRAM had purchased that part of TIME. 

Comments: This is big. Shimano has had pedals since the dawn of time, (HA! Sorry!), and SRAM has not really had pedals to speak of. Sure, they did some flat pedals for a while, some Quark power meter meter pedals, and if memory serves, there were some SPD-like SRAM branded pedals for a bit, but for the most part, no.... SRAM now has TIME pedals and they are highly regarded by road cyclists and mountain bikers. Obviously, the gravel segment is covered as well with the Ciclo, which you'd have to believe is a pedal SRAM will want to ramp up production on sooner than later. 

 In a "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" article about the SRAM/TIME story, it is said that SRAM will market the pedals as "Time Sport". This should put Time Sport pedals underneath a lot more riders in the future. While the story claims SRAM won't rebrand these pedals, I find it hard to believe that at some point they won't fold Time Sport into a SRAM branding. Especially when new models start to appear, and as the linked "BRAIN" article intimates, SRAM has a lot of in-house power meter technology, so a power meter pedal is probably coming soon. It would then make sense to have it communicate with SRAM's AXS technology, and be called "SRAM AXS Pedals", as a for instance. We'll see......

Media Conglomerate Forms- Aims To Be Your 'Outside' Ecosystem:

Also- while we're thinking about "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News", it was also reported on Monday that the industry specific media's parent company is now known as "Outside" since the company formerly known as "Pocket Outdoor Media" acquired "Outdoor" and several other entities within the active media realm. The formation of this conglomerate means that one corporation now controls a huge portion of your outdoor focused media and outdoor activities focused companies. 

In addition to "BRAIN" and "Outdoor Magazine" the new Outdoor company also owns "Peloton", "Velo News", and several other back packing, snow sports, and yoga based titles. Interestingly, "Outdoor" also now owns "AthleteReg", owner of "", who also have partnered with USAC. You probably know "" if you've attended gravel events. 

The CEO of 'Outdoor', Robin Thurston, had his vision for the media empire laid out in the press release sent out and published by all of 'Outdoor's' media outlets which said that, "Thurston's vision is to build what he calls the Amazon Prime of the active lifestyle: a connected, holistic ecosystem of resources — including content, experiences, utilities, community, commerce, education, and services — that can be customized for each active lifestyle enthusiast."

Comments: So, be aware that you may be playing with "The Man" as you go about reading about and doing outside activities. Come to think of it, can we even say 'outside' anymore without violating some trademark? Only half kidding there.......

Maybe you don't care, but I find it rather interesting that a very vocal segment of 'outside' loving gravel enthusiasts are carping on about the 'corporatization of gravel' and how events are 'too corporate' but maybe are not paying attention to what's happening 'in the room' here. Obviously anything 'outside' related is hot now. It only makes sense then that corporate entities are taking note and looking to become a player in the economics of 'outside' activities.  I say just be aware who you are handing over your dinero to. 

Iowa Gravel Series Announced; 

Unbelievably there has never been an Iowa based gravel events series. In fact, there was a dearth of Iowa based gravel events in any form until maybe three years ago. Now that all looks to be changing. 

With several new events on its calendar, the Iowa Gravel Series looks to become the first series of events under one banner in Iowa. The site doesn't give any indications that this is anything other than several events under one banner. For instance, there doesn't seem to be any carry-over for 'points' or any kind of overall series competition, but the series is noteworthy for being aimed at all riders of any skill level. The events are to be 100 milers, and are spread across the state from Northeast Iowa to Southwest Iowa. (NOTE: I did communicate with the series director eventually on Facebook and he said he is working these details out)

There are currently five events listed with four of them being brand new. They are "The Silver City Century, May 8th, the "Waukon One Hundred, June 19th, "Albia" on July 17th, and "Preparation Pisgah" on August 14th. An established event, the Glenwood Gravel event, also has joined up and will happen on September 18th.

The events are going to have GPX files for riders to navigate by and it is claimed that the routes will be "clearly marked" as well. NOTE: I saw nothing about any COVID-19 protocols, so please be aware of that situation and do your research if you are interested in attending these events. NOTE: I have no affiliation with these events. I retired from event productions at the end of 2020. Any questions should not be asked of me concerning these events. I am just passing on the info.  

Comments: Okay, it's about time someone stepped up to the plate and did a series. Also, NEW EVENTS! How cool is that? This should start to give Iowa a reputation for great gravel routes and opportunities. I LOVE that one of their events is out of Waukon, an area I am quite familiar with having run Trans Iowa through there. If you attend that one, get yer climbing gears on! 

I heard through an acquaintance  that more current Iowa events were asked to join the series but declined due to their opinion that the series did not enhance their events. That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see more events added in the future. I do not know the series director, but it is apparent that he is aggressively moving forward with plans to make this a thing in Iowa.

A little disappointed in that there is no nod to our pandemic which is ongoing. While things 'look better', we ain't outta the woods yet, and by seemingly ignoring this, I think it is a bad thing for the series. Hopefully that gets rectified, but otherwise I am glad to see this being rolled out. I hope that the events live up to the high standards that previous Iowa gravel events have pioneered.  

Salsa Cycles Timberjack XT Image courtesy of Salsa Cycles
Salsa Cycles Debuts '21 Model Year Timberjacks:

Salsa Cycles on Thursday introduced their new range of Timberjack mountain bikes. This is a new design from the ground up, longer wheel base, slacker head angle, a bit lower in the bottom bracket. So, right in the hardtail-du-jour soup for mountain bikes. 

Mountain bikes used to be a thing that helped you traverse all-terrain. They used to be a bike type that could be best said to have been an all-around bike for anything single track anywhere. But specialty segments broke off that- down hill, enduro, and XC racing to name but a few. The hard tail bike is, kind of, the remnant of that original exploration/touring type of mountain bike that kicked off the genre in the late 70's/early 80's. 

But even these hard tails, as exemplified by the current Timberjack, have evolved to become mostly groomed trail, down hill specialists. That's what seems to sell, so that is what people get. In many ways, bike packing bikes like the Tumbleweed Prospector or a Jones Bikes model (pick any one of them) is more akin to the original spirit of mountain biking than the Timberjack is, and they handle all-terrains reasonably well. Unlike a bike like the Timberjack, and its ilk, which are not all that great where I live, as a for instance. 

A Breezer Lightning, circa 2013.
I tested a Breezer once back in around 2013, I think it was, and that bike was a single track ripper! Sure, it wouldn't do what a Timberjack is capable of on a bermed-out, downhill trail, but it could kill a Timberjack in the Mid-West on single track. Plus, it was an easy bike to climb on, and didn't require loads of steering corrections while doing so. That's a bike type that is sorely missing, in my view, from today's offerings. 

But Salsa Cycles biggest customer is REI co-op, and they buy the lion's share of Fargos, Timberjacks, and other more lower to mid-priced Salsa bikes in the range. They want a bike that has appeal which consumers will part with their dollars for and this is the type of riding more people are attracted to now- the more gravity oriented, groomed trails type riding, and so who is wrong? Not Salsa, not REI. They are just giving the market what it wants to part with their dollars, so I get it. 

The market is in love with this idea, the marketers are all about fulfilling and stoking that idea, and maybe some day things will swing back the other way and we'll think bikes like the Timberjack were really goofy, just as we do when we look at the "NORBA hard tails" from the 90's. (The other extreme, in my mind) Or not....... Who knows? 

I have heard through the grapevine that numbers on new 2021 Salsa bikes available are really limited. It was rumored online that REI received most of the Fargo allotment and Larges and Mediums are sold out already. In February! So, I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear that a Timebrjack is as rare as a hen's tooth and that many people will be scrambling to find one. To be fair, most any 2021 model year bike will be really hard to find. 

It's going to be another one of those years............

That's a wrap for this week. Looking forward to better weather soon, but get out there if you can.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Well, That Was Fun!

The first day above 32°F happened on Monday of this week and we are to be well above freezing for several days now. With the Sun riding high in the sky now, and longer days on tap, it won't be long before we are done fat biking in the snow. Maybe even now the trails are too far gone for it. It was fun while it lasted. 

The only thing I regret is that for about two weeks straight fat biking conditions were primo but the temperatures were beastly. And many of those days it was just far too windy to cope. I even had to break out my ATV pogies for that time as it was too good not to go out but too windy not to have pogies. 

Side note: These cheapo ATV pogies, (purchased at a local Farm & Fleet store for around 20 bucks) are perfect for Jones Bars. Plus, they go up to about your elbows. I like that when the conditions call for that. They are also super easy to take off and put back on again, require no fancy end plug gizmos, and have internal chemical heat pockets in case you are insane and want to ride in an apocalyptic snow storm or something. Anyway......

So, yeah, what fat biking on snow I got to do was fantastic and the fat bike season of 2020/2021 was pretty top notch, I'd say. The snow actually was of the variety that it had consistency, not the generally 'sandy' type snow which we get a lot of here anymore that makes riding on snow impossible no matter how wide the tires are. I liken that type of snow to hour glass sand. Super fine, granular, and will not hold together for anything. Basically worthless for fat biking on. Fortunately this season had none of that type of snow at all. 

But now we are watching that snow we did get turn to water and drain away. It is now full-on "Slop Season". That period of time between good, rideable snow and dry-ish roads and trails leading into Spring. A messy, ugly time where getting on the road, or as in my case, gravel road, is often difficult due to refrozen run-off, sand from road treatment, and soft roads in the country. But I am armed with fenders and wider tires. 

Bring it on!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

B.O.G. Series; Why Ride Gravel?

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

This is gravel.
Why Ride Gravel?

With miles and miles of smooth, paved roads, why would anyone want to ride on gravel? It's dirty, dusty, rough, and uncomfortable. All these things are true. Pavement is a lot faster, smoother, and more fun- IF you aren't getting buzzed by speeding cars, afraid for your life, or getting abused in other ways like getting yelled at, having things thrown at you, or getting 'coal rolled' by some numbskull in a diesel truck. 

Maybe you are just tired of the attitude on the local group ride. Maybe the urban bike trails are getting boring. Perhaps you are in need of a new challenge. If any of that is you, there are a ton of gravel roads waiting for you. 

I used to ride road bikes on the road a LOT. I've toured across four states unsupported, and I've done RAGBRAI and other paved road rides. I LOVED riding paved back roads, but with today's distracted drivers, seeing others getting buzzed, hit, and even dying, I decided that it was more prudent to be on mostly deserted back roads which are not paved. Once I made the commitment to riding gravel, I was hooked. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Super low traffic counts, and when you do encounter vehicles, they are more often than not piloted by friendly people. 
  • Beauty and Peacefulness. Gravel and dirt roads take you places you will never see on pavement, plus the peacefulness of the rural areas is beyond description. Need a break from social media madness, your rat-race job, or life in general? Get off-pavement! 
  • Challenging Riding: Generally gravel and dirt roads follow the contours of the land. It is more challenging, but that just means that your riding will be more rewarding. Challenges are good things! 
  • Gravel riding will make you a better bicyclist. The contours, the varied nature of the surfaces, and dealing with various situations which gravel riding brings with it will stretch you as a cyclist and improve your bike handling skills. These things will translate to all areas of cycling you choose to pursue. 
  • You can enjoy riding abreast with others, converse, and not be in the way or potentially become a road hazard. Obviously, you still need to be alert, but gravel riding is a social activity if you want it to be. It lends itself to that in a much better way than paved riding.
  • Flora and Fauna: The rural areas are ripe with animals and plant life you just don't see off paved roads and certainly not in cities. Depending upon where you live, off-pavement riding can open up an entirely new world to you in terms of wildlife and plant specimens. 
  • Lots of Places To Ride: Many states have tons of off-pavement roads to explore. Here where I live we have upwards of 70,000 miles of gravel and dirt roads to ride. While Iowa is one of the top states for off-pavement riding, your state probably has a lot of hidden gems to explore. Elsewhere in the world off-pavement riding can take you to some really interesting places. 

 Obviously gravel riding is one of the hottest trends in cycling right now. That may be a reason as well why you'd want to check it out. Now with all that said, gravel road riding is not for everyone. If you try it, or have tried it, and it just doesn't trip your trigger, well that's perfectly fine. You are not crazy. But good on you for giving it a go. 

Now, if any of the above hits your heart right and seems to be a good idea, the following articles in the series will hopefully get you sent off on the right track. There always are deeper dives into any of the topics I am going to cover, but I'm going to hit the highlights and send you on your way, hopefully, on an adventure that will bring you much joy and growth as a cyclist and as a person.

Next Wednesday: What Bike To Use

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

This Just In

Look closely at that handle bar. Somethin' odd goin' on there!
 Being in the reviewing of product game is odd. There are 'unwritten rules of engagement' and all manner of weird practices. Take for instance these new handle bars I just received for review on

The company sent these out and with that a note that there is a 'press embargo' on the bars until early March. That said, they are up on their website, they have taken pre-orders from customers, and are advertising the things on social media like crazy. Furthermore, customers that already have the bars are posting their thoughts already on these. So my question is, "What is the point in having a 'press embargo'? I fail to see any point at all in it, but.....I will not name these bars. That said, it'll take you two seconds to figure out what is going on here. 

Now, with that out of the way, I will go back into a bit of history here. It relates to what's on the BMC in the picture. Way back, when Ergon grips were still a pretty new thing, many of us in the gravel grinding community were wondering, "Hey! When are y'all gunna make sumthin' like that fer us? It'd be rad to put sumpthin' like these on drop bars, ya know?" And Ergon was receptive but said that "maybe someday" they'd get around to that. Which is company-speak for "We do not believe we'd sell enough to make it worthwhile". And back around 2006 - 2007? They were probably right. 

But now, in 2021, some company thought that the numbers were there for sales, and well, ya know what? They are right. And I believe you'll be seeing a lot more of these in the future. Just like when Ergon grips came out and people laughed and dismissed them as being too heavy, too goofy looking, and that it was an over-priced product, these are going to be dismissed similarly with similar comments. Too bad. 

But I think they will come around........

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A Ten Year Review Of The Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross

I received the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross in February 2011.
 A Look At A Decade Of Riding The Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross":

 Ten years ago now I got the Black Mountain Cycles "Monster Cross" frame and fork from Mike Varley at Black Mountain Cycles.

Long time blog readers know that this is the bike I got in lieu of having a custom gravel bike frame and fork made back then. There were no 'gravel bikes' at the time, just bicycles repurposed for that pursuit. In my mind, the BMC was closer to my ideals at the time than anything else I could get. I'll get around to what the deal was in 2011, because things were far different then than they are now. Decisions I made then were based on what could be had easily, not on pipe dreams, so I made several compromises, but those things are not necessary these days. This will play into my final verdict on this bike, obviously. 

I will also have a pictorial history of this bike and the changes it went through over the years. It started out as more of a true "Monster Cross" rig, single speed, and with the rare Luxy Bars, then it morphed into a geared bike, and then almost a rando bike before returning to a single speed again. 

I could go on and on about this bike, but I will try to make this as brief as I can. Before I go any further here, I should point out that some geometry tweaks were made to the Monster Cross model a few years after I received mine, so current Monster Cross bikes are a bit different. So, keep that in mind when I comment on this bike, especially when it comes to bottom bracket height. Okay, now on with the review....

The first version of the bike after I built it up in early 2011.

The scene in late 2010/early 2011 was pretty much lacking in anything 'gravel'. In fact, anything you used on gravel for........well, gravel riding, was begged, borrowed, and stolen from other forms of cycling. Mainly from cyclo-cross. Those bikes had bigger than road bike tire clearances but were close enough to road bike sensibilities that they made more sense on gravel than hard tail mountain bikes, which at this point were mostly 29"ers. Those were okay, but cyclo-cross bikes were lighter and you had a much more aero position on them than you did on most 29"ers. 

So, the bike that came closest to my ideals of what a gravel road bike should be was the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike. It had the promise of large tire clearances, a slightly slacker geometry, and the only thing I was dismayed by was the bottom bracket height. It was pretty high for what I wanted, but I gave it a go anyway. 

The first incarnation of my Orange Crush was as a single speed set up with 2.0" 29"er tires set up on impossibly skinny Shimano Sante' hubbed, Matrix rimmed wheels from the 80's. Brakes were old STX cantilevers and the brake levers were shimano SLR aero levers from the late 90's. I was pretty much smitten with the bike immediately since this bike took over gravel duties from my Karate Monkey 29"er.

Version 2 of the #49 Orange Crush. Circa 2012

After a while I ended up gearing this bike up with a non-series Shimano two piece Hollowgram crankset, Ultegra 9 speed rear derailleur and shifters, and a SLX top pull front derailleur with a new set of Velocity A-23 wheels and Bontrager XR-1 tires. (BEST big volume gravel tires I've ever used- sadly long out of production) I also swapped handle bars to the then new Salsa Cowbells.

In this configuration I found that this bike worked very well but I started to experience some things I did not like much, especially going fast on loose gravel. Yep.....high bottom bracket. I also came to dislike the "Gnot Rite" drop out spacing which was a royal pain when swapping in the rear wheel. I ended up cold setting the rear triangle so I never had to deal with that again. (Note- I believe this also was a running change with the Monster Cross model, so it should not be a concern anymore.) 

Version 3- I sold the black A-23's and replaced them with silver ones. The Ultegra rings were swapped for 46/36 FSA, and a new WTB Pure saddle was fitted along with new Clement rubber. 

Version 4- Retroshift (Gevenalle) shifters, a front rack, bag, and fenders fitted with Panaracer Pasela tires.

Several rapid fire changes then happened which brought the Orange Crush to a state in which it stayed for many years. I got a cool front bag to test out for my gravel riding site, (Sadly- it is no longer made, so don't ask.) This brought the need for a front rack, so that got installed along with some Planet Bike Freddy Fenders. Now it looked almost like a rando bike! 

In this form I enjoyed many long rides and I tested a lot of tires on this rig. The high bottom bracket wasn't a big concern for me on flatter terrain, and by this time, I had a proper gravel bike in the Raleigh Tamland, which was pretty much made to my spec. So, I didn't see the BMC as my primary gravel rig anymore. It was decent, but it wasn't great, like the Tamland was/is. 

The Orange Crush set up for the Dirty Kanza 200 in 2015. I decided to take my Fargo instead.

The BMC went back to a single speed in late 2019.


The Orange Crush got pushed back to being mostly a Winter hack and test bed for I fitted Planet Bike Cascadia ALX fenders and somewhere along the way it got a set of Tektro cantilever brakes which replaced the old SLX cantilevers. I also got another wheel set from HED Wheels to switch out with the Velocity A-23's. Finally, in 2019 I got back to single speed mode, setting the bike up with 180mm cranks. 

In this mode I was much more pleased with the Orange Crush. The longer cranks allowed me to set the saddle down a hair which in effect made the bike feel better. The high bottom bracket accommodates the longer cranks well. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, and out in the country it seemed to be a good thing overall. 

This is where the Orange Crush is 2021

Final Thoughts: The Monster Cross model was a gateway to gravel in 2011. However; since those days what is this bike now? In my mind, it is a bike that at once is old school (cantilever brakes, steel fork, QR drop outs) and modern (fat tire capabilities, slacker geometry), so it is a bit of a conundrum. It isn't what you'd get for fast gravel racing, but it won't let you down if you do. Modern Monster Cross frames have a much more gravel friendly bottom bracket height and a few other nice tweaks over what I've got here, (that new fork is super cool), so what I have to say about mine maybe isn't really relatable today. 

Bike packing? Well, it isn't set with all the accessory warts that you'd maybe expect with such a bike, nor does it have a lot of bottle mounts. No- maybe light touring. The bike really is a simple machine that is for 'under-biking', pseudo- MTB, and just goofing off in the country on. It will launch over the logs, deal with uneven terrain, and -yes- it will gravel all day long too. I like it single speed best in comparison to my geared bikes, but then again, I like single speeds. So there is that. 

I maybe should have gotten a newer Monster Cross bike, so I could experience the differences between this one of mine and the newer models, but that would be an exercise in frivolity that I can not really afford at this point. So, take this review with a grain of salt. I like my Orange Crush. We've had some stellar times together. She ain't perfect but it's alright. We get along just fine and I suspect we'll have many more great rides in the future.

Note: I bought this bike with my own damn money and was not paid, nor bribed, to give my thoughts on it. So there!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: A Look At The Scene In 2015

Pre-Race Meat-Up for T.I.v11 Image courtesy of Tim Bauer
"Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

In this post I will try to give some context to Trans Iowa's place in the niche of gravel cycling circa 2015. 

As Trans Iowa v11 rolled around, the event had survived a decade of evolution. By v11 this event had hit its stride. It was 'peak-Trans Iowa', if you will. The stature and status of the event would never be higher, and the way that it was produced was at, or very nearly at, its pinnacle. All that said, Trans Iowa was a big deal in the world of gravel events for strange reasons. I thought it might prove to be a good time to give you- the reader- some context for where Trans Iowa fit into the gravel scene back then.

From about 2010 until the time of Trans Iowa v11, a period of only five years, gravel cycling blew up into a huge force to be reckoned with. No longer could this genre of cycling be ignored by the cycling industry, the organizers of Pro and semi-Pro cycling in the USA, or the mainstream cycling media. It was obviously a segment that was growing rapidly and showed no signs of slowing down. 

Throughout the time period from 2010 - 2015 I was constantly asked how many gravel events there were in the USA. My tabulation of a gravel calendar was unique, at that time, and so I suppose that was one reason I was asked so much about this. Looking back, the number of events mattered since it was a barometer of sorts for those in the industry and in the media to help them get a pulse on gravel cycling's popularity. Another barometer of this growth was the attendance at the DK200. I was there to see it have barely enough people to fill a cheesy motel parking lot with riders in 2009. Six years later, the DK200 had three solid blocks jam packed with riders for its 2015 edition, which I was a participant in. The exponential growth of that event was another indication that gravel cycling was - or already had - taken off. Finally, USAC- the road cycling sanctioning organization in the USA, was suffering steep declines in membership. It was widely reported that by 2016 they had figured that membership fees had declined by over one million dollars. Most of those former license holders were likely now riding unsanctioned gravel events.

So, it didn't take a genius to see that gravel events and gravel cycling in general was on a serious upswing with seemingly no end in sight. (The pandemic of 2020 did put the brakes on this finally) Trans Iowa, being arguably the first gravel event of the modern gravel era, in contrast to all the growth, was now being seen as a quaint, old time event. Yes- Trans Iowa had its legendary status fully cemented into history, but it was not 'up-to-date' in terms of what many thought a gravel event should be. 

Maybe the reason for that, one could say, was "The DK200 Effect". That event set expectations from the media, and then the riders affected by that narrative. The expectations were fairly common for GPS files of courses to be given to riders ahead of the event, and aid stations, big finish line parties or productions, or both, were expected by those coming to that event. Trappings like chip timing, podiums, fancy number plates, and commemorative jerseys and apparel were almost a foregone conclusion if you were going to have yourself a 'big event' experience. 

Now, of course, that did not explain all the hundreds of gravel events which were popping up everywhere, but most all of those were not seen as being anything worth mentioning by brands, media, and those on social media who were looking for affirmation from their various groups. That said, it was the ground floor events which propelled the gravel scene to its heights we know it to be at now in 2021 and beyond. But in 2015, this was not a perspective many had yet, if anyone did. No, events like Trans Iowa were falling off the radar and seen as for only the most hard-core of gravel cyclists. 

Trans Iowa was then a spectacle. Something that people marveled at and wanted to see, but not what they wanted to actually participate in. The characters that came and rode in the event's latter years were seen as oddballs. Freaks of nature that were incomprehensible to the average person. As an example, winning the prestigious Dirty Kanza 200 was seen as a feather in one's cap, but winning Trans Iowa? Well, who cares? 

The gravel scene was hard for traditional race culture to figure out.

So, in terms of the 'gravel scene'', Trans Iowa was the 'red headed step-child'. It was too weird, too arcane, and too hard to wrap your mind around for it to have captured the imaginations of the populace. There was no real reward to covet that was tangible. No one was going to give the riders that completed the challenge a contract, an endorsement package, and they never went on to be major influencers, long-term brand ambassadors, or well known social media icons. (Although some tried it) As one long-time Trans Iowa rider put it, (and I am paraphrasing his actual words here) Finishing the DK200 makes you feel like a rock star, finishing Trans Iowa makes you feel like a monk. And let's face it- most people don't want to feel like a monk that has reached his goal, and many have no idea what that would be anyway.

 But there was something about Trans Iowa that struck a nerve. There was a desire for such an event and that 'something' motivated a few folks to offer alternatives. Once Trans Iowa started to wane, and after it ended, there seemed to be a void there. Obviously the "Iowa Wind and Rock" is Trans Iowa's direct offspring. Similarly, the Spotted Horse Ultra-Gravel event is very much in a Trans Iowa vein. And, ironically enough, even the 'big time' events started to add very "Trans Iowa-like"additions to their events. Homages to the oddball TI, if you will. The DKXL being one of the first, and now "The Long Voyage" at Gravel Worlds being one of the latest to mimic a Trans Iowa-like distance, at least, if not the entire ethos of Trans Iowa.

If you came and rode in Trans Iowa, especially from about T.I.v10 onward, you did the event for reasons most worldly folks would never understand. And the event was geared towards that, intentionally and by accident. It was never going to be the darling of the gravel scene. It was more like the mysterious distant relative no one really knew, but had heard about at family reunions. Some were drawn to Trans Iowa's unique and bizarre nature and had to have a taste. But most were just mildly curious, never wanting to really get to know it, were satisfied just to talk maliciously about it, and certainly never would ever think about riding in it. 

I cannot say why, but I think all of the preceding points went into the fact that most Trans Iowa riders were repeat attendees. Certainly, we had new riders every year, but most never returned after one try. This accounts for why that, over 14 editions of the event where approximately 1400 unique individuals could have participated, (based upon my rough calculations of roster limits, volunteer exemptions, etc), only 530 unique individuals ever toed the line for the event. That isn't many, and shows you why I feel Trans Iowa was an odd-duck in the gravel cycling world. 

So, when it comes to any accolades for this event, I am always humbled and thankful, certainly, but Trans Iowa also most certainly was not a 'popular' event, nor did it seem to appear that it should ever have had the influences over the gravel scene that it did have. So I am always a bit amazed that people still sometimes even care about this event, to know about it, and to want to read its stories. Legendary? Maybe. Mysterious? Possibly. A Spectacle? Most certainly. All perhaps why this event sparks the imagination of some people.

Next: Five Minutes To Spare

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Remembering Shenanigans

From 2010's Frostbike 'show'- Back when Frostbike was cool.
 From about 2003 until 2015, I attended the annual Frostbike dealer open house, as it used to be called, every year. In the beginning it was merely a day-trip with my former boss to go see what was new for the coming year in components, mostly, from vendors that Quality Bicycle Products distributed. 

These first few trips to Frostbike were mainly boring affairs as my former boss wasn't very socially adept and really shied away from interactions with 'strangers' that weren't interested in giving him the limelight. Now on occasion he would find a willing subject which he would then assail with half-baked tales of 1980's era crit racing. That was always my cue to escape and ferret out new friends, new stuff, and to just generally poke around. 

Then things changed around about 2006 when I started attending Frostbike on my own. I got the shop invite and just drove up myself and did whatever I wanted. Blogging here and my association with Trans Iowa and "Twentynine" gave me access to more people and places. During this time I met Ben Witt, Marty Larson, Jason Boucher, Mike Reimer, and several other QBP people. This was the start of the "Years Of Shenanigans" at Frostbike. And let me tell was insanity! 

Frostbike generally happened mid-February, so last weekend would probably have been about right, except this year that was Valentine's Day, so maybe this weekend would have been the weekend? I don't know, of course, as I haven't been to Frostbike since 2015. I'm sure QBP's legal and PR departments are quite happy that I no longer come up. Especially after that last year I went! 

Mike, of Mike's Bikes in Northfield, Minnesota, checking out my new Singular Gryphon in 2010

Of course, most of my shenanigans weren't at Frostbike at all, honestly. No, they happened in Northfield, Minnesota at a bike shop which no longer exists anymore called Mike's Bikes. Mike, the owner, was a former resident of San Francisco, (or that vicinity) back in the 70's and worked as a bicycle mechanic during the days of the early klunker experiments. He rode with Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly and had a few great stories about them. He even had his own klunker which he grafted old Shimano disc brakes to! (I saw the pictures)

You may have seen that reproductions of these are available now. Well, these are The Originals! Seen at Mike's Bikes in 2009.

Mike's Bikes was the Center of Shenanigans. Ben, Marty, myself, and usually a few others would gather there on the Friday evening or Saturday evening of Frostbike weekend. Greek style pizzas and lots of beers were brought in. Old collectable bikes were brought out, and a 'track' of sorts was set up. We could speed through Mike's from the front, retail area, through the shop, up a ramp, make a hard left into the storage/office/back room, another hard left through a doorway, down a ramp in a hallway, through another door that was propped open, and then down a longer hallway to the final hard left and back into the retail space. Mike's was all concrete flooring, so grip wasn't an issue and carpeting wasn't going to hold us back either. 

Food + beers + bicycles + inebriated riders going waaaaay too fast = mayhem sometimes. You wouldn't believe how fast we'd get going! It was a blast! Between sessions we'd repair to the back room and drink and yak until we'd all had enough and we would wander off to our beds, for far too little sleep and an early morning. This happened several years and was a big part of why I loved Frostbike weekend.

I got to attend the Grand Opening night of the Angry Catfish bicycle shop.

There were extra-curricular activities as well throughout those years. I was honored to attend several functions, like the opening of the Angry Catfish bicycle shop, and a few "Cutter's Ball" events which were held in various venues. One being the Peacock Groove headquarters. The final shindig was a big affair at a motel in downtown Minneapolis. I remember crashing one shindig for QBP's top dealers held upstairs in the QBP facility. I was snuck in and had to 'hide out' in the cubicle farm with some other "Q" folk until the coast was clear. Good times! 

There were late nights at bars in Northfield, walking around at night through snowy streets as we went from place to place attending affairs and parties. There was the infamous night when I illegally parked Jason Boucher's Honda Element across from One on One Bicycle Studio and got it towed, which cost hundreds of dollars to rectify. There was the assault on the parking ramp, where myself and several others were risking life and limb to short-cut a way to somewhere we thought we needed to be. All at the risk of falling several stories in a concrete jungle. There was the one year when Mrs. Guitar Ted and I ended up driving on a closed to traffic I-35 during an all-out blizzard. But the most notorious dumb deed has to be when I attended Frostbike the last time, and this one ended up being my swan song of sorts. 

About halfway back- I started on 7th downtown Minneapolis!

That would have been my infamous "walking tour of Minneapolis" which I undertook during a snow storm at night in 17° weather wearing nothing but a stocking hat and a red Raleigh Tamland hoodie besides my normal street clothes. 

The situation was that I was to meet Ben Welnak, my then new partner in, at the downtown Minneapolis motel where Frostbike was having a big dinner/awards ceremony.  My family came along and we had a motel procured near QBP just off of I-495 in Bloomington, quite a ways South of the 7th and Nicolette area where I was dropped off early in the evening. The family went back to the motel, while the plan for me was to get a ride from Ben after the evening's activities were done.

Well, drinking ensued and Ben had more than enough, and wandered off with a group of folks somewhere when I wasn't looking. I was left with a few acquaintances and figured I better stay put until Ben came back to find me. Well......that never happened. One thing led to another, 'bar time' came and went, people went to their rooms, and I was left alone in a lobby of a strange motel at about 3:00am with no Ben, and no way to get home without incurring the wrath of Mrs. Guitar Ted, who was most likely sleeping by this time. 

So, using my much clouded powers of wisdom, I determined by looking at my dying iPhone with its map app, that I could "easily walk that distance back to the motel!", and so I memorized a basic route, and set off a walkin' South on Nicolette Avenue. Snow, cold, and time to come to my senses eventually shocked me to the reality that I had gotten myself into quite a pickle. My tennis shoe clad feet were getting frozen, my body was in early stages of hypothermia, and the Sun was broaching the Eastern skyline. I was within about a mile or so of my destination by this time though, so I gutted it out and went as far as the infrastructure of interstate roadways would let me. Finally, I had to declare 'no mas!' and I called my wife with my last bit of battery power on the phone. She retrieved me, with a stern scolding,and I got back to the motel by around 8:00am and went directly to sleep. 

I missed the entire first day of Frostbike, since I slept in till about 6:00pm, and I went in on Sunday. People found me and I had several concerned folks giving me what-for and reminding me that I could call for help anytime. Jason Boucher being probably the most adamant in this regard as I remember him poking me in the chest as he admonished me for my previous evening's shenanigans. Word had obviously spread far and wide about "Guitar Ted's Walking Tour of Minneapolis", an approximately 12 mile hike of dubious wisdom overnight in the snow and cold. 

 Yeah, that was a good way to leave it. No more shenanigans at Frostbike for me!

Someday I'll have to do a more thorough retrospective of things I saw at Frostbike. That can wait for another time....

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday News And Views

Maxxis Receptor- (Image courtesy of Maxxis)
Maxxis Debuts The Receptor Tire:

Last Monday news hit the web-o-sphere that Maxxis was debuting a new tire called the "Receptor". I took a look and said to myself, "Byway v2". It's no wonder that Maxxis, who haven't been a big player in terms of recognition in the gravel scene, wanted to pull a model out with a striking resemblance to one of WTB's best selling gravel tires, the Byway

I know at one point a few years ago, the Byway was the number one seller for WTB. So, with Maxxis not garnering a lot of buzz in the gravel scene, it makes sense, on one hand, to pretty much copy the Byway. Hopefully Maxxis gives this Byway-like tire a bit more volume than WTB gave the Byway, a tire that they are calling a 40mm tire. The Byway is pretty much a 38mm tire in 700c form, so it is a bit of a bummer if you are in the 40mm-43mm camp for a tire on your gravel bike. 

Of course, there is a 650B variant, a tire listed at 47mm, again, very Byway-like. The 650B one also is currently the only variant listed on the Maxxis website, although news regurgitations of the press release claim there will also be a 700c X 40mm black and skin wall version available at some point. (To be fair, the 700c sizes and skin wall options are mentioned in the video on the Receptor page.)

Comments: Smooth center + knobby edges = Gravel Tire® Seems to be the common tread design with variations on the theme ever since Challenge Tire's aptly named 'Gravel Grinder' tire came out about eight years ago now. The knobs on this Receptor tire look almost like an after-thought though. They come so far down the shoulders of the tire that, on a narrower 40mm carcass, you'd have to be in a pretty steep lean or in a really soft, loose terrain condition to even engage those tread features. This is what I would deem as a "Mental Insurance" tread feature. It makes you feel like you've got something other than a slick tire when in fact all you have is a slick tire with some ornamental tread blocks. To Maxxis' credit, these 'knobs' look pretty minimal, so they shouldn't add a lot of weight. 

Maxxis gravel tires used to be a real treat to mount tubeless due to their carbon fiber strand bead.  Maxxis makes no mention of this feature on their site, so if they are not doing that anymore, all the better. I'm keenly interested in the 700 X 40mm size, because if it is really 40mm, then it would leap into my favorites category, assuming all else was up to snuff. With Maxxis, there really is no reason to believe it wouldn't be.

A Tweet from Panaracer's social media 2/15/21
Panaracer Drops Sponsorship of Gravel Racing Team:

One of the first industry sponsored gravel racing teams had its former title sponsor drop out for 2021. The new Abus Pro Gravel racing team was announced February 10th with no mention of Panaracer's involvement anymore. 

Panaracer, on the other hand, started putting out feelers for brand ambassadors on February 1st. Panaracer posted on their Facebook page the following: "As a Panaracer ambassador, we will support you in your riding adventures in return for your original content, stoke and feedback." Applications for brand ambassadorship closed on February 14th.

Comments: Obviously Panaracer is taking a much different approach to sponsorship going forward.  You may have heard about "direct to consumer" type retail, well this might be seen as 'direct to consumer marketing' since the company seems to be cutting out any 'traditional' types of athlete activation. Obviously, getting content and tester feedback for a few sets of tires and "social media fame" will be a good trade off from what is spent on traditional marketing. Remember the old saw: "I owe my soul to the Company Store"? Kinda smells like that to me. Also noteworthy of thought: I don't know what types of events Panaracer will be involved in going forward, but it wouldn't surprise me to see that Panaracer becomes a grassroots events sponsor, if they do anything at all. 

 Also, as seen in the Tweet shown,  Panaracer will have a 'new, modernized look', whatever that means. (Actually, we get to find out Monday- I got an embargoed press release) and it will be interesting to see how their marketing changes going forward.  

The new Pivot Cycles E-Vault. (Image courtesy of Pivot Cycles)

Pivot Cycles Introduces New E-Vault Gravel Bike:

Tuesday news broke that Pivot Cycles has introduced a HPC (motorized bicycle) that is meant for city and gravel usage. It's dubbed the E-Vault

This Hybrid Powered Cycle (HPC) features a Fazua motor which has three levels of assist, adjustable on the fly. The motor also features a complete decoupling mode for 100% human powered cycling with no drag from the motor's internals. (Of course, you still have to overcome the extra weight) The frame is carbon fiber and it features top-shelf components from Shimano and others. Pivot lists the starting price at $9,999.00USD. 

Comments: There were a few items I was curious about concerning this bike. How far could you go on a charge? What sort of weight are you pedaling around in decoupled mode? What's the geometry like? Well, besides the geometry, which you have to scroll down the page for, the other two question's answers were buried in the FAQ. 

The geometry is okay. It is what I am starting to feel like is "Gravel Bike 1.0 Geometry". 72° head angle, 70mm bottom bracket drop. Pretty 'five years ago' geometry there, and as far as I am concerned, a geometry that wasn't right from the get-go. But that said, it's okay. It works alright but there is a better way to go. 

Now the weight- almost 30lbs. Not bad for a HPC, but hold on here. This is important. In the FAQ Pivot claims they could get about 45-50 miles in a single charge with less than 4,000ft of climbing. They do not give an indication of what percentage of that was boosted riding versus non-assisted, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was 100% boosted for that amount of mileage/climbing. That's not very impressive. Not when you consider how easily one can accumulate 4,000 feet of climb in a state like Iowa on a 50 mile ride. Oh.....and wind is a factor too. That isn't accounted for in this measure for all we know here. 

And the bike is ten grand minimum. Ouch! HPC's are going to get people out of their cars and riding more? Not in this case, I don't think that is the idea.  

That's a wrap for this frigid week! Let's hope warmer weather is on the way!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Townie Update: Part 4

I used some Finish Line De-greaser to clean up the bearings
 The time finally came to get the head set cleaned and re-greased so I could button this project up for now and move on to other things. (I'll get to those in a minute here)

Recently I received some products from Finish Line to test and review for These were sent free of charge and this post is not being paid for or even a part of that review, other than to say this is how I got that stuff. (The review will happen and be posted on soon)  

The de-greaser is pretty volatile and very effective. I ended up spraying some on a rag and just using that to wipe down a lot of the parts of the head set which took the final veneer of varnished grease off. The head set bearings came out far better, and what tiny bits of goo were left were remnants of old grease that I wasn't too keen about chasing down. I could have made the bearing cages spotless, but I've already invested far too much time dinking around with this component already, so I cut bait and started reassembling the thing. 

That may rub some of your sensibilities wrong but this is a steel head set with about zero collectable value and as such it doesn't deserve more of my time, which is valuable. My aim is to make it function better than it would have, and that goal has been more than accomplished here. Your mileage may vary, but time doesn't grow on trees. Time to get 'er buttoned up! 

A closer look at that toothed spacer.

This is a pretty crude head set too. The adjustment is held by the interfacing of two toothed faces- one on the upper bearing race and the other by a spacer. Neither are machined with wrench flats, and since the adjustment can only be fine tuned to a tooth one way or another, wrench flats would be a waste. No, this is a hand adjusted head set. You get it 'close enough' and it's likely going to be a tic loose or a hair too tight. I cannot do anything beyond that as a mechanic. The design dictates the final outcome here. 

The top nut just keeps the teeth from skipping over each other and keeps the piece from rattling. That's about all it really does in this design. So, I hand tightened the unit after a thorough greasing with the Finish Line product I was sent to try. Interestingly, and maybe fittingly, it is a white grease, just like they would probably have used in the old barn at Trek back in the 70's. It also kind of feels like lithium grease. Anyway.....

I also used that grease on the threaded parts of the head set and the fork. This keeps things from hanging up and giving you a false sense that the head set is adjusted correctly. Dry threading parts together will often not allow you to get things fastened up completely, and you'll end up doing adjustments again, or you'll have parts come apart. Besides that, a thin layer of grease also helps to ward off corrosion. I was always taught that you should always have something on threaded parts of a bicycle- either grease or a thread locking agent. This bit of wisdom imparted to me early on in my career as a mechanic has served me well. With that thin coating of grease on threads, you'll also find that things thread together with much less effort. That's always nice! 

No machined slot in the fork threads, just a ground down area.

One thing I thought was odd here was that there was no key-way slot machined or cut into the fork's threaded section. This is typically done to match keyed one inch threaded head set spacers so they will not rotate when you adjust a head set. The Trek here has a ground down section on the threads instead. I have never come across this before.

It looks hand-filed, and this serves the same purpose as a slotted threaded section on a fork, it's just much cruder, in my opinion. Maybe that is how old-school hand-made forks were done, but it took me a bit by surprise. Just another example of how Trek was a completely different company in the beginnings of their history. 

So the rest of the job went without any fanfare. I got it all put back together and the apparent indexing was now absent, so I did take care of the problem. Plus I have insured smooth operation of the head set for a long time to come. Again, while it is a crude piece, it should be serviceable and ride okay. If I come across a nicer head set some day I may swap that in, but for now? I'm good. 

Now that this has been accomplished I am going to put the Trek townie aside for the time being and concentrate on a few other bikes. I have bits coming in which will need to be installed on bikes. I also need to service my gravel fleet as the day is coming that this sort of riding will commence again. Fenders will be fitted again in preparation for "Slop Season" and I may spruce up a 650B wheel set for soft conditions riding. Lots of maintenance will be happening. I'll have to investigate the possibilities of getting some 11 speed chains in here. I also have a couple wide range cassettes with light use available to me now courtesy of N.Y. Roll. So, going forward I should have anything I need to maintain these rigs throughout 2021, if I can snag some new chains.

So look for some maintenance posts coming in the next couple of weeks as I get ready to hit the country roads once again. 2021 riding season is just about here! I am pretty stoked! And the Trek> I'll come around back to that later, but it won't be forgotten, plus I have another commuter/errand rig I am going to be putting back into service here soon. Stay tuned for that and more!